Isaiah 19:15
Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, which the head or tail, branch or rush, may do.
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(15) The head or tail, branch or rush.—For this figurative description of all classes of the people, see Note on Isaiah 9:14.

19:1-17 God shall come into Egypt with his judgments. He will raise up the causes of their destruction from among themselves. When ungodly men escape danger, they are apt to think themselves secure; but evil pursues sinners, and will speedily overtake them, except they repent. The Egyptians will be given over into the hand of one who shall rule them with rigour, as was shortly after fulfilled. The Egyptians were renowned for wisdom and science; yet the Lord would give them up to their own perverse schemes, and to quarrel, till their land would be brought by their contests to become an object of contempt and pity. He renders sinners afraid of those whom they have despised and oppressed; and the Lord of hosts will make the workers of iniquity a terror to themselves, and to each other; and every object around a terror to them.Neither shall there be any work - The sense is, that there shall be such discord that no man, whether a prince, a politician, or a priest, shall be able to give any advice, or form any plan for the national safety and security, which shall be successful.

Which the head or tail - High or low; strong or weak: those in office and those out of office; all shall be dispirited and confounded. Rosenmuller understands by the head here, the "political" orders of the nation, and by the tail the "sacerdotal" ranks. But the meaning more probably is, the highest and the lowest ranks - all the politicians, and priests, and princes, on the one hand, as the prophet had just stated Isaiah 19:11-15; and all the artificers, fishermen, etc., on the other, as he had stated Isaiah 19:8-10. This verse, therefore, is a "summing up" of all he had said about the calamities that were coming upon them.

Branch or rush - See these words explained in the note at Isaiah 9:14.

15. work for Egypt—nothing which Egypt can do to extricate itself from the difficulty.

head or tail—high or low (Isa 19:11-15, and Isa 19:8-10).

branch or rush—the lofty palm branch or the humble reed (Isa 9:14, 15; 10:33, 34).

All people, both high and low, shall be at their wits’ end not knowing what to do. Neither shall there be any work for Egypt,.... No trade or business to carry on; their rivers being dried up, there was no flax to work with, and fine linen was a principal commodity of Egypt; nor any fish to catch, or rushes to make paper of, as before observed: or it would not be in the power of their hands to deliver themselves from the Assyrians that should come against them; and that they should be deprived of wisdom and counsel, and be at their wits' end, not knowing what to do, or what step to take:

which the head or tail, branch or rush, may do: high or low, strong or weak, all ranks and orders of men shall have nothing to do; all shall be weak and dispirited, and void of counsel. By the "head" and "branch" may be meant the king and his nobles; and by the "tail" and "rush" the common people; see Isaiah 9:14. The Targum interprets the whole of their chief men thus,

"and the Egyptians shall have no king to reign, nor prince, noble, governor, or ruler.''

Jarchi explains it of the magicians, astrologers, and stargazers of Egypt, who, with all their boasted knowledge and wisdom, should not be able either to foresee or prevent the evil coming upon them.

Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, which the head or tail, branch or rush, may {o} perform.

(o) Neither the great or the small, the strong or the weak.

15. No concerted action is possible, and every proposal that is brought forward falls to the ground.

head and tail, palm-branch and rush, exactly as in ch. Isaiah 9:14.Verse 15. - Neither shall there be, etc. Translate, And there shall be for Egypt no work in which both the head and the tail, both the palm branch and the rush, may (conjointly) work. The general spirit of perverseness shall prevent all union of high with low, rich with poor. The prophet then proceeds to foretell another misfortune which was coming upon Egypt: the Nile dries up, and with this the fertility of the land disappears. "And the waters will dry up from the sea, and the river is parched and dried. And the arms of the river spread a stench; the channels of Matzor become shallow and parched: reed and rush shrivel up. The meadows by the Nile, on the border of the Nile, and every corn-field of the Nile, dries up, is scattered, and disappears. And the fishermen groan, and all who throw draw-nets into the Nile lament, and they that spread out the net upon the face of the waters languish away. And the workers of fine combed flax are confounded, and the weavers of cotton fabrics. And the pillars of the land are ground to powder; all that work for wages are troubled in mind." In Isaiah 19:5 the Nile is called yâm (a sea), just as Homer calls it Oceanus, which, as Diodorus observes, was the name given by the natives to the river (Egypt. oham). The White Nile is called bahr el-abyad (the White Sea), the Blue Nile bahr el-azrak, and the combined waters bahr eṅNil, or, in the language of the Besharn, as here in Isaiah, yām. And in the account of the creation, in Genesis 1, yammim is the collective name for great seas and rivers. But the Nile itself is more like an inland sea than a river, from the point at which the great bodies of water brought down by the Blue Nile and the White Nile, which rises a few weeks later, flow together; partly on account of its great breadth, and partly also because of its remaining stagnant throughout the dry season. It is not till the tropical rains commence that the swelling river begins to flow more rapidly, and the yâm becomes a nâhâr. But when, as is here threatened, the Nile sea and Nile river in Upper Egypt sink together and dry up (nisshethu, niphal either of shâthath equals nâshattu, to set, to grow shallow; or more probably from nâshath, to dry up, since Isaiah 41:17 and Jeremiah 51:30 warrant the assumption that there was such a verb), the mouths (or arms) of the Nile (nehâr), which flow through the Delta, and the many canals (ye'orim), by which the benefits of the overflow are conveyed to the Nile valley, are turned into stinking puddles (האזניחוּ, a hiphil, half substantive half verbal, unparalleled elsewhere,

(Note: It is not unparalleled as a hiph. denom. (compare הצהיר, oil, יצהר, to press, Job 24:11, Talm. התליע, to become worm-eaten, and many others of a similar kind); and as a mixed form (possibly a mixture of two readings, as Gesenius and Bttcher suppose, though it is not necessarily so), the language admitted of much that was strange, more especially in the vulgar tongue, which found its way here and there into written composition.)

signifying to spread a stench; possibly it may have been used in the place of הזניח, from אזנח or אזנח, stinking, to which a different application was given in ordinary use). In all probability it is not without intention that Isaiah uses the expression Mâtzor, inasmuch as he distinguishes Mâzort from Pathros (Isaiah 11:11), i.e., Lower from Upper Egypt (Egyp. sa-het, the low land, and sa-res, the higher land), the two together being Mitzrayim. And ye'orim (by the side of nehâroth) we are warranted in regarding as the name given of the Nile canals. The canal system in Egypt and the system of irrigation are older than the invasion of the Hyksos (vid., Lepsius, in Herzog's Cyclopaedia). On the other hand, ye'ōr in Isaiah 19:7 (where it is written three times plene, as it is also in Isaiah 19:8) is the Egyptian name of the Nile generally (yaro).

(Note: From the fact that aur in old Egyptian means the Nile, we may explain the Φρουορῶ ἤτοι Νεῖλος, with which the Laterculus of Eratosthenes closes.)

It is repeated emphatically three times, like Mitzrayim in Isaiah 19:1. Parallel to mizra‛, but yet different from it, is ערות, from ערה, to be naked or bare, which signifies, like many derivatives of the synonymous word in Arabic, either open spaces, or as here, grassy tracts by the water-side, i.e., meadows. Even the meadows, which lie close to the water-side (pi equals ora, as in Psalm 133:2, not ostium), and all the fields, become so parched, that they blow away like ashes.

Then the three leading sources from which Egypt derived its maintenance all fail: - viz. the fishing; the linen manufacture, which supplied dresses for the priests and bandages for mummies; and the cotton manufacture, by which all who were not priests were supplied with clothes. The Egyptian fishery was very important. In the Berlin Museum there is an Egyptian micmoreth with lead attached. The mode of working the flax by means of serikâh, pectinatio (compare סרוק, wool-combs, Kelim, 12, 2), is shown on the monuments. In the Berlin Museum there are also Egyptian combs of this description with which the flax was carded. The productions of the Egyptian looms were celebrated in antiquity: chōrây, lit., white cloth (singularet. with the old termination ay), is the general name for cotton fabrics, or the different kinds of byssus that were woven there (compare the βυσσίνων ὀθονίων of the Rosetta inscription). All the castes, from the highest to the lowest, are not thrown into agonies of despair. The shâthōth (an epithet that was probably suggested by the thought of shethi, a warp, Syr. 'ashti, to weave, through the natural association of ideas), i.e., the "pillars" of the land (with a suffix relating to Mitzrayim, see at Isaiah 3:8, and construed as a masculine as at Psalm 11:3), were the highest castes, who were the direct supporters of the state edifice; and שׂכר עשׂי cannot mean the citizens engaged in trade, i.e., the middle classes, but such of the people as hired themselves to the employers of labour, and therefore lived upon wages and not upon their own property (שׂכר is used here as in Proverbs 11:18, and not as equivalent to סכר, the dammers-up of the water for the purpose of catching the fish, like סכרין, Kelim, 23, 5).

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